WASHINGTON ― Potential funding woes and questions about the aggressive proposed timelines have cast doubts about the future of the Coast Guard’s new heavy polar ice breaker.
The Government Accountability Office is dubious the service’s lone heavy polar icebreaker can make it to its proposed 2023 retirement date and questioned whether the Coast Guard’s construction schedule was too optimistic.
The Coast Guard is planing to replace the Polar Star with the new heavy icebreaker the same year, something GAO said may not be “realistic and feasible.”
The watchdog noted the aging Polar Star could reach the end of its service life as soon as 2020, and the “highly optimistic” delivery date of the new vessel could be delayed and leave the service without a heavy polar icebreaker to defend strategic Arctic interests for several years.
Vice Adm. Daniel Abel, deputy commandant for operations, recently told the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee at a hearing that the Polar Star is “limping along, and nothing with a US flag could rescue her [in the Arctic] if something happened, putting our polar capabilities at risk."
To further complicate matters, House appropriators are currently debating cutting $750 million in funding for the Coast Guard.
Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, deputy commandant for mission support, said at the hearing that the entire program schedule is at risk if the appropriations cut is finalized but that he remained confident that the Coast Guard is “well-poised to award the detailed construction contract in fiscal year 2019” for the heavy polar ice breaker.